Notorious Comic Book Censor Employed Flawed Studies

Notorious Comic Book Censor Employed Flawed Studies

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The man who defanged comic books in the 1950s used dishonest methodology.

Time for a bit of a comic book history lesson: Comics in the 1930s and 40s were weird, violent, and often scary. Since videogames wouldn't come around for another few decades, old fogeys of the day loved blaming society's ills on the proliferation of comic books and their young readership (sound familiar?). One such dinosaur was Fredric Wertham, an American psychologist whose inflammatory book Seduction of the Innocent necessitated the creation of the Comics Code Authority, which made comic books into safe, silly bastions of traditional American values. Although Wertham remains a controversial figure, new findings suggest that his research was flawed at best, and outright fabricated at worst.

Carol L. Tilley, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, discovered this disconcerting information while researching Wertham for a project concerning the social history of comic book readers. She asserts that Wertham "manipulated, overstated, compromised and fabricated evidence" in pursuit of singling out comic books as a harmful influence for children. Among other things, Wertham claims to have treated thousands of young patients (evidence suggests he worked with only a few hundred), combined and invented personalities to make more compelling quotes, and did not properly research the comics and characters which he despised. For example, Wertham's book cites a 7-year-old boy having nightmares about becoming a beetle, just like the Blue Beetle in DC Comics. However, the Blue Beetle character possesses no such ability, and Wertham's own notes state that the boy recalled having nightmares, but could remember no particulars about them.

Interestingly, Tilley and others who have critically examined Wertham's work generally believe that he was a good man with a misguided cause, rather than the tyrant he's often made out to be. "I don't want to join the people who are trying to heap him onto some bonfire of how awful he was," says Tilley. "[He was] carried away with his own preconceptions, his own agenda, that became perhaps disconnected from the kids that he was treating and observing." Michael Chabon, the author of the Silver Age superhero-inspired book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, adds that Wertham was a compassionate, progressive man. Wertham spent years of his life caring for minority and poor mental health patients, casting light on their plight in society at large rather than dismissing it.

Whether Wertham was a petty bully or a misunderstood crusader, Tilley and her contemporaries will do their best to bring his historical role to light. "We need to be reasonable and realize that it could be that some of the research is flawed," she says. "It could be that some people are choosing to preference their own personal beliefs or their own agenda above doing good research. I think this can be a cautionary reminder." Cautionary, indeed.

Source: The New York Times

Image: DC Wikia

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I thought at this point everyone pretty much figured Wertham's was full of shit. Interesting findings nonetheless.

Also, I have a bit of PSA to give here considering the content:

If you want to be more informed regarding the current "video games cause violence" debate look no further than the Seduction of the Innocent (which I believe has been out of print for decades) and the related 50's senate subcommittee hearings regarding comic books and juvenile delinquency. It is an incredibly interesting piece of media history, but also serves as an very apt analogue for the modern video game violence debate. The parallels between the controversies are incredible.

Also, I believe William Gaines would be the perfect analogue for David Jaffe (though he would probably more intelligent regarding his defense) XD

Censorship in the 50s was bullshit? STOP THE PRESSES!
Well at least they...

*puts on sunglasses*

...See it Now

Fappy:

If you want to be more informed regarding the current "video games cause violence" debate look no further than the Seduction of the Innocent (which I believe has been out of print for decades) and the related 50's senate subcommittee hearings regarding comic books and juvenile delinquency. It is an incredibly interesting piece of media history, but also serves as an very apt analogue for the modern video game violence debate. The parallels between the controversies are incredible.

Yes, yes, and yes! I linked to the first part of an excellent History Channel documentary called Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked in this article, and I can't recommend watching the whole thing highly enough. A big part of it involves comic book censorship and Wertham's role in the hearings, and you can basically just replace "comic books" with "video games" without losing a single relevant point.

and McCarthy just wanted to make his country safe, doesn't mean that history is going to remember him fondly. history tends to boil people down to one important or infamous thing that they did. This guy wrote Seduction of the Innocent and he's going to be paying for it for the rest of history.

Interesting findings, and I fall into the camp that considers Wertham to be a misunderstood crusader. Basically, his intent was only to convince comic book publishers to enforce a ratings system, similar to movies. However, to quote TV Tropes, "The Comic Code Authority instead made a ratings system where the only rating was PG." Wertham only wanted comics like EC Comics to have a rating like, say, video games. The CCA simply overreacted.

Not that he wasn't full of shit. But he wasn't the true villain that brought about the downfall of EC Comics, either.

Twilight_guy:
and McCarthy just wanted to make his country safe, doesn't mean that history is going to remember him fondly. history tends to boil people down to one important or infamous thing that they did. This guy wrote Seduction of the Innocent and he's going to be paying for it for the rest of history.

Good he deserves to pay for the rest of history as a fraud and a charlatan.

No matter his intent falsification is an offence that ends your career and your credibility forever. If we look in the past to the people that had "good intentions" and falsified data to force those intentions on other people we run into tragedy after tragedy after tragedy.

Do I really have to pull out the Tobacco industry falsifying data to pretend smoking wasn't harmful? They had well intentions for their wallet. Falsification of research is always wrong because you have no power of what happens on the basis of that research.

The greater good does not excuse throwing honesty over board. Look up Doctor Money and read a bit about that before you say "Well intended" equals justified.

What once was a small problem in the 1950s has become a huge issue now. Now McDonalds is to blame for fat people, the NRA is to blame for school shootings, and video games and rap music turn children into violent megalomaniacs.

Don't trust anyone who wants to heap the blame onto any one group or item. Everyone has an agenda and nobody is to be trusted. That especially includes all sensitive issues including politics, personal history, or religion.

Marshall Honorof:
Since videogames wouldn't come around for another few decades, old fogeys of the day loved blaming society's ills on the proliferation of comic books and their young readership (sound familiar?).

You missed an R in your HREF. Just a friendly pointer. The link leads here.

Someone making up data to push their own agenda on the public? SHOCKING! No, wait, the other thing. Utterly predictable. Yeah, that's it. Although I'm late to the pointing-out party, this parallels the prosecution of video games so perfectly, it's a wonder that people seem to be missing it. As George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Fappy:
The parallels between the controversies are incredible.

Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

I don't remember where the second half comes from, but those who learn from history are doomed to watch others repeat it.

Marshall Honorof:

Fappy:

If you want to be more informed regarding the current "video games cause violence" debate look no further than the Seduction of the Innocent (which I believe has been out of print for decades) and the related 50's senate subcommittee hearings regarding comic books and juvenile delinquency. It is an incredibly interesting piece of media history, but also serves as an very apt analogue for the modern video game violence debate. The parallels between the controversies are incredible.

Yes, yes, and yes! I linked to the first part of an excellent History Channel documentary called Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked in this article, and I can't recommend watching the whole thing highly enough. A big part of it involves comic book censorship and Wertham's role in the hearings, and you can basically just replace "comic books" with "video games" without losing a single relevant point.

I've seen that special a number of times. It's a great watch!

I was actually lucky enough to take a "Comic Books in American Culture" course back in college and we spent a lot of time on the whole controversy. The best part is when Stan Lee of all people was one of the first big names to give the comic code the finger. Strangely enough a friend of mine got a copy of Seduction of the Innocence because it is apparently a bit of a collector's item.

Too bad there weren't any comic book wikis back then to check his own "facts". Maybe then his work would've been less fabricated-like.

yeah, if you massively falsify your research to make a point you are dick. and most times when this happens and you take a closer look at their body of work there is a pattern to how people act

Anyone who uses lies to push censorship and restrict our freedoms is a fascist tyrant and should be judged as such.

Old fogey pulls information out of his ass to vilify a thing he doesn't like or understand in order to push his own agenda to the masses? Preposterous!

Well the guy was a psychologist, or Psychoanalysis as they used to call them (or maybe that just in Great Britain). This was a new field of 'science' and the whole lot of them were the very definition of hubris. Doesn't really justify what this guy did falsifying his data to achieve his goal, but it's probably the sort of thing everyone in his field was doing at the time.

If I may throw out another great documentary for those interested check out the BBC 4 hour special The Century of the Self, which analysis how the works of Sigmund Freud influenced society throughout the 20th century. Really amazing stuff, if you want an understanding of how society got to where we are today.

Not a surprise this was the age of blacklisting in Hollywood with the Hollywood 10 being the most famous. That fascist pig McCarthy and his senate hearings which lead to the ruination of many people the above mentioned among them. That someone was able to get the government on board for comic book censorship with lies is no surprise sadly.

Ok, we solved the 60 year old mistery, how about we solve the censorts that are still around?

Sylveria:
Anyone who uses lies to push censorship and restrict our freedoms is a fascist tyrant and should be judged as such.

you mean, like, ESRB?

DVS BSTrD:
Censorship in the 50s was bullshit? STOP THE PRESSES!
Well at least they...

*puts on sunglasses*

...See it Now

I think we need those sunglasses as a built-in feature for this site...

I would abuse the hell out of it.

Shame its copyrighted.

A white knight retard making stuff up to support his crusade?

Stop the presses....

There's a distinct irony to be had in situations where 'good intent' walk hand in hand with 'lying.'

Probably because it justifiably makes everyone else start to wonder if the data is the only thing you're lying about.

So he was basically a Knight Templar?

I think we found Jack Thompson's real father, here.

 

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